Rose by any other Name

I swear, after the recent ‘episode” of Surjeet Singh, in lieu of Sarabjit Singh, I tried lisping the two names, at least the given first names,
several times, because I did experience years ago, the Punjaabi intonation, could very well have mixed one with the other….one does not confuse the patronymic, which is among the most common in India.
Yet, for a change, in India, both the print and electronic media actually got it wrong, with various degrees of bluster, from the word go.
And the ” Hindu ” of Chennai, was the first to admit with saving grace, that there was indeed a gaffe.
Which set me thinking, even though I scarcely haul myself to see any movie on the wide screen, and with the home theatre and
several DVDs to watch collecting dust, I do find it engrossing to read movie reviews.
And one of those potboilers, Agent Vinod, with the on-screen couple of Saif ( Indian spy ) and the lissome Kareena ( Pakistani ISI ), who
anyway can boast of a grandfather and great grandfather that hailed  from the one-and-only Peshawar, certainly had  reviews that were exactly that : engrossing.
Here they are, and I hope I have not transgressed on copyrights, as the reviews though varied, are on the same subject potboiler,
and full credit to those who wrote the stuff, for our edification:

Go beyond the gore and get the message


The film speaks an inconvenient truth.

APThe film speaks an inconvenient truth.


Reviewers have panned ‘Agent Vinod’ but the film has broken the stereotype of the Muslim terrorist.

To borrow from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, one often misses the forest for the trees: Individual scenes can so overwhelm the senses that we lose the larger picture.

I am talking of Saif Ali Khan’s much hyped “Agent Vinod.” Trashed by reviewers and written off as a colossal flop, the film has been banned in Pakistan. In my view, however, people have been so turned off by the violence in the film that they have missed its larger point. I regard the point as the raison d’être of “Agent Vinod.”

I see the film as a bold cinematic statement which categorically delinks Islam from terrorism, almost exemplifying the cliché “Terror has no colour, no religion.”

Violence and poverty

The film opens with a scene in a dusty, rugged and overcrowded camp, Dash-e-Margoh, in Afghanistan. Vinod is tied up and tortured by Colonel Huzaifa of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) watched over by a posse of shalwar clad, rifle bearing men. What is as hard hitting as the violence is the wretchedness and poverty of the people huddling in the camp.

Agent Vinod is the ace spy from the Indian intelligence who is in pursuit of an elusive terror source. On board the Trans-Siberian express, he jets across the world from Kandahar to Tangiers, from Latvia to St. Petersburg, going from the rolling greens of London to five-star hotels in Karachi.

All the while he is looking for the terror trigger, which rests in hands far beyond the reach of ordinary intelligence, hands which are both invisible and invincible.

Agent Vinod is pitted against the Pakistani agent, Iram Parveen Bilal, who has been unleashed by the ISI across continents to track down the same source of terror. The point the film makes is that we ordinary people are only permitted to see half truths. We are shown (by our rulers) terror cells and terror capsules which are carefully crafted facades for the real thing. We see smoking guns and dead bodies, and we are led to sleeper cells of the Jaish and Lashkar. Names like ‘Abu,’ ‘Abdul,’ ‘Al Nasr’ are thrown at us so unceasingly that we cannot but join the dots to Islam. We see a terrorist in every Muslim and Islam becomes synonymous with terror. But as Agent Vinod and Iram Parveen Bilal eventually find out, the people they are chasing are the wretched of the earth, creatures of harsh terrains who are merely pawns carrying out the biddings of powers far beyond and far above them. India and Pakistan, personified by Vinod and Iram, have to understand, in the words of Kareena (Iram), “We are after all on the same side.”

Enter Sir Jagdishwar Metla, Indian origin British Lord, who glides on water, cuts ribbons, walks across golf greens, greets mothers and babies and obliges TV anchors. In his plush Oxford Street office is a photograph of him with a bunch of international buddies, global players and Sultans of the stock market. It is a black and white snapshot of the cartel that rules the world.

What we need to see

When Vinod confronts him, Sir Metla flicks him off like a speck of dirt. “What do you know of the complexities of the game?” he asks. “Whenever there is a blast anywhere in the world, do you know what happens at the stock market?” “But what about the lakhs who get killed?” asks Vinod. “What about them?” he asks, adding with a shrug, “But you will have to excuse me. I am the chief guest at the London Rotary.”

“You will be killed for this Sir,” Vinod replies softly. “But yours will be the death of a martyr; roads and buildings will be named after you, memorials will be built for you.”

The assassination takes place according to script. A scruffy member of the sleeper cell appears with a bouquet in front of Sir Metla and pulls the trigger. The real assassin is blown up; no one would ever know the truth behind the screaming news headlines.

For me, the film has opened a new window to vindicate Islam; the very word Islam means Peace.

The film attempts to erase the scars and rid Islam of the terror tag. It speaks an inconvenient truth. Unfortunately, this truth escapes most of the audience which sees the violence of the film as an assault.

The film is rightly dedicated to ‘Abba’ Mansoor Ali Khan Tiger Pataudi. He would have been proud of his son. As viewers, we ought to look beyond the obvious to reach the core of a truth that is as uncomfortable as it is stark.

(The writer is Member, Planning Commission.)


Shaken, not stirred enough


Agent Vinod
Agent Vinod
Let me say this first. Don’t listen to me. I’m a Sriram Raghavan fanboy. Though Agent Vinod isn’t half the mind-game Johnny Gaddaar was, it’s certainly not the disaster people are saying it is. Take a look at Vinod’s competition.
James Bond: There are more bad Bond films than good ones and very few that actually got everything right. They were born out of a huge legacy of Ian Fleming’s writings, mostly pulp fiction.
Jason Bourne: Probably the most consistent of spy thrillers, this had the advantage of being spawned from Robert Ludlum’s bestseller from the Eighties. And big budgets to boot.
Ethan Hunt: Again, based on a TV series, this franchise fronted by Tom Cruise is yet to find its balance, even after four films. The first movie directed by Brian De Palma was criticised to be too inaccessible, the second too dumb, the third too real and the fourth shot at a budget that’s almost 12 times that of Agent Vinod speaks for itself with its Indian segment featuring Anil Kapoor.
Harry Tasker: That Arnold Schwarzenegger movie — True Lies. Enough said.
Locally, Don: Who is technically not a spy, just a fugitive created out of Hindi cinemas staple of doppelgangers recently subverted the original film into a triumph of evil, and lost its moral footing by trying to be smart and went further away from its roots of the chase film construct by getting mixed up in heist-based action in the sequel.
And now we have Agent Vinod whose only origin story is that he is Bollywood’s equivalent of Bond and Bourne rolled into one, but he can also shake a leg and let his hair down unlike the other heroes who take their roles so seriously these days (But if you remember Bond of yore, he was more like a spoof of himself).
So it is rather appalling to see people cry for Sriram’s blood because the sheer nature of the genre lends itself towards guilty pleasure and not cinematic brilliance. The first thing we need to remember about the genre: Spy films are about the saving the world, not about rushing an injured pet to the hospital.
And Agent Vinod is a fairly good start to a franchise, even if extremely inconsistent and long.
1. The Hero: Saif Ali Khan is perfect for the part. James Bond probably knows to pick up a girl, but Vinod, he’s so suave he can even pick up a guy! He’s the quintessential Bollywood hero otherwise. He can sing, dance, charm the pants off anyone and dodge bullets. And he puts country first. Unlike Don, this is clearly a good guy with loads of style and mojo. Saif seems to relish delivering his lines in style.
2. Unpretentiously good old-fashioned cinema-as-escape: Sadly, film literacy in our country, especially a sense of pride of our cinema, is so low that not many appreciate the idea of celebrating our own. Can you imagine a Robert Rodriguez or a Quentin Tarantino film without any references? Where are our film nerds and movie geeks? More than Bond or BourneAgent Vinod is a lot like Robert Rodriguez’s style of filmmaking — there are plenty of references, there’s retro music and typography drenched in red (check out the opening credits), sentimentality, romance and machine gun action. Yet, it’s all distinctly Bollywood with its musical narrative taking the story forward — the way it used to be in the Seventies.
3. Thrills: The explosive Afghanistan one is a blast of a start, the train sequence in Russia and the on-camera execution triggers off the plot, the colourful high energy Sri Lankan flashback-intercut-with-real-time-action sequence choreographed to Ilaiyaraja’s ‘Rakkamma Kaiya Thattu’ or the almost poetic gunfire choreography in Riga, Latvia set to the ‘Rabta’ track from the album are evidence of the filmmaker’s genius and love for the medium. The problem is only of excess. There’s just too much world-touring and while the film packs in many moments of quirks, the pace considerably slows down because of the stopovers around the world and also the weak excuses to get from one place to another.
4. Smart Villains: Finally, we have a filmmaker who gives his villains equal amount of intelligence as the hero himself. Every time Vinod thinks he’s smart, the villains prove him wrong. But again, the problem is of excess and overload of bad guys in the script.
5. The Score: Daniel George makes Agent Vinod feel like time travel to another era, pretty much like Johnny Gaddaar did. In fact, it’s Pritam’s songs that don’t seem to sync with the overall nostalgia the film manufactures.
While the basics make sure that Agent Vinod is way better than run-of-the-mill Bollywood, our standards for Sriram Raghavan are sky high. This is a disappointment only because we expect a lot more from the guy who takes his time and dedicates himself completely to films. He surely deserves another chance to find the perfect balance for this promising spy film franchise.
Agent Vinod
Genre: Spy thriller
Director: Sriram Raghavan
Cast: Saif Ali Khan, Kareena Kapoor, Ram Kapoor, Prem Chopra, Ravi Kissen, Gulshan Grover, Adil Hussain
Storyline: A RAW agent must avenge his friend’s death and solve the mystery behind the code 242
Bottomline: This world tour could leave you jet lagged but where all it takes you makes it worth the trip.

Agent Vinod: Stylish but staple


Still from the movie
Still from the movie “Agent Vinod”. Photo: Special Arrangement
Sriram Raghavan’s “Agent Vinod” starring Saif Ali Khan and Kareena Kapoor is not a bad movie, but not a good one either. It has all the elements of a Sriram Raghavan movie, that we loved so much in “Johnny Gaddar” and “Ek Hasina Thi” like movie references, exceptional camerawork, innovative title sequences, irreverent background score and so on. But all these are few and far between. The rest is just some badly choreographed action sequences (except for a few) and a screenplay that goes loose after the 30-minute mark.
Saif Ali Khan as agent Vinod is on a mission across the world (clichéd) to uncover the mystery behind a nuclear weapon and it turns out to be a bigger conspiracy than he thought. The only reason I’m not mapping out the plot to you is because it is as simple as it gets and the plot is probably the best thing about the screenplay and I don’t want to spoil it for you.
Real-life couple Saif and Kareena actually turn out to be better that I expected on screen. They share a good chemistry until she gets sentimental and philosophical.
The only scene that Sriram Raghavan has used their off-screen chemistry on-screen is in the three-minute brilliantly shot action sequence in a motel in Russia where Saif Ali Khan dodges bullets like they are balls of paper, while at the same time the romance between them blooms as he moves from one corner to another saving her. All this while a romantic number with beautiful lyrics playing in the background. And believe it or not, all this in a single-tracking shot!
In an age where action films try to be as just as good as their Hollywood counterpart, this movie is no different except for a few well-choreographed sequences. This is to all directors out there — people actually want to see what’s happening when the action takes place, not everyone likes it when the camera rotates, twists and turns every second. A steady-cam would be so much better.
“Agent Vinod” is a brillianly shot, not-so good movie. It goes to all the non-exotic places at exotic locations and turns them into places you want to visit. I know this is farfetched but seriously, Tangiers in “Agent Vinod” looked better than in “Bourne Ultimatum”.
Despite the slick editing, at two hours and 40 minutes, you feel tired and let down at the end. And another tip: don’t leave once you see what you think is the climax because there is an other solid 20 minutes after that.
“Agent Vinod” looks a lot Bond-ish than any Khan thriller I’ve seen. If the movie had been shorter, and if the number of characters that appear and disappear had been fewer, this movie would’ve been a good addition to Sriram Raghavan’s legacy.
Bottomline: Go without reading any reviews (it brings down your morale) and forget the two previous movies Sriram Raghavan made, then you won’t be as disappointed as I was.
Final word:  I would personally go for Tere Bin Laden, not just for Ali Zafar, but for the rustic Punjaabi poultry-farmer, who wants to know from all around him ” Ismey to kuch khatra to nahi hai ”  ( There’s no danger to life and limb in all  this, know ? )
Now back to the gaffes in newsprint.  The doughty daily from whose columns I have reproduced the above, made one that had me sit ramrod straight for an entire day.
A couple of years ago, in the supplement section, giving a weekly Travel Quip, was this one from Sir Richard Burton
One of the gladdest moments in human life, methinks, is the departure upon a distant journey into unknown lands. Shaking off with one mighty effort the fetters of Habit, the leaden weight of Routine, the cloak of many Cares and the slavery of Hope, one feels once more happy. 
The photograph given along with the above quote, was no doubt of Richard Burton, but it was this:
The man in the photograph was certainly not knighted, and was a leading Welsh actor of international acclaim,  and who certainly brought much joy to me as a kid, as no doubt thousands will remember him, with his histrionics in several films of the time
 Unfortunately, dead people don’t just tell no tales, they obviously aren’t in a position to point out such misdemeanours by us living creatures, once they belong to the Dear Departed.
But now, let me come to a Solid Sardar, all of 98 years now, and I well recall how years ago, when he was Editor of the leading weekly tabloid of India, known as Illustrated Weekly, now long defunct, and notwithstanding, permit me to cheer the Sardar on !
He had related an incident where he had taken a flight to Chennai, at the behest and invitation of several admirers who had beckoned him, and was to be invited in full regalia given his status as a man of letters, red carpet and garlands, et al, and as the flight landed, –  just how myopic could the welcoming party get, –  they garlanded the wrong Sardar, even escorted him to the star hotel where he was to be the guest.  And it took some time for the right Sardar to be identified –  the redoubtable Khushwant Singh.
So in all fairness, I should end this with the latest write-up of Khushwant ji, and may he well live beyond the well-deserved century:

Secret of my longevity

Khushwant Singh

Sweet and sour

Coming on to 98 years and still earning more than I did in my younger days, people ask me how I manage to do it. They regard me as an expert on longevity. I have pronounced on the subject before: I will repeat it with suitable amendments based on my experiences in the past two years.

Photo courtesy: WikiEarlier I had written that longevity is in one’s genes: children of long-living parents are likely to live longer than those born of short-lived parents. This did not happen in my own family. My parents who died at 90 and 94 had five children, four sons and a daughter.

The first to go was the youngest of the siblings. Next went my sister who was the fourth. My elder brother who was three years older than me went a couple of years ago. Two of us remain. I, who will soon be 98, and my younger brother, a retired Brigadier three years younger than me and in much better health. He looks after our ancestral property. Nevertheless, I still believe gene is the most important factor in determining one’s life-span.

Devise ways

More important than analysing longevity is to cope with old age and make terms with it. As we grow older, we are less able to exercise our limbs. We have to devise ways to keep them active. Right into my middle eighties, I played tennis every morning, did the rounds of Lodhi gardens in winter and spent an hour in the swimming pool in summer. I am unable to do this any more.

The best way to overcome this handicap is regular massages. I have tried different kinds of massages and was disappointed with the oil drip and smearing of oil on the body. A good massage needs powerful hands going all over one’s body from the skull to the toes. I have this done at least once a day or at times twice a day. I am convinced that this has kept me going for so long.

Equally important is the need to cut down drastically one’s intake of food and drink. I start my mornings with a glass of guava juice. It is tastier and more health-giving than orange or any other fruit juice. My breakfast is one scrambled egg on toast. My lunch is usually patli kichri with dahi or a vegetable. I skip afternoon tea. In the evening I take a peg of Single Malt Whisky. It gives me a false appetite! Before I eat my supper, I say to myself “don’t eat too much”.

I also believe that a meal should have just one kind of vegetable or meat followed by a pinch of chooran. It is best to eat alone and in silence. Talking while eating does not do justice to the food and you swallow a lot of it. For me no more Punjabi or Mughlai food. I find south Indian idli, sambar and grated coconut easier to digest and healthier.

Never allow yourself to be constipated. The stomach is a storehouse of all kinds of ailments. Our sedantry life tends to make us constipated. Keep your bowels clean by whatever means you can: by lexatives, enemas, glycerine suppositories —whatever Bapu Gandhi fully understood the need to keep bowels clean. Besides, taking an enema every day, he gave enemas to his women admirers.
Impose a strict discipline on your daily routine. If necessary, use a stop-watch. I have breakfast exactly at 6.30 am. lunch at noon, drink at 7 pm, supper at 8 pm.

Try to develop piece of mind. For this you must have a healthy bank account. Shortage of money can be very demoralising. It does not have to be in crores, but enough for your future needs and possibility of falling ill. Never lose your temper. It takes a heavy toll and jangles one’s nerves. Never
tell a lie. Always keep your national motto in mind: Satyamev Jayate – only truth triumphs.

Give away generously. Remember you cannot take it with you. You may give it to your children, your servants or in charity. You will feel better. There is joy in giving. Drive out envy of those who have done better than you in life. A Punjabi verse sums up:

Rookhi sookhy khai kay Thanda paani pee
Na veykh paraayee chonparian Na tarsaain jee

(Eat dry bread and drink cold water
Pay no heed or envy those who smear their chapatis with ghee.)

Do not conform to the tradition of old people spending time in prayer and long hours in places of worship. That amounts to conceding defeat. Instead take up a hobby like gardening, growing bonsai, helping children of your neighbourhood with their homework.

A practice which I have found very effective is to fix my gaze on the flame of candle, empty my mind of everything, but in my kind repeat Aum Shanti, Aum Shanti, Aum Shanti. It does work. I am at peace with the world. We can’t all be Fawja Singh who as 100 runs a marathon race, but we can equal him in longevity, creativity. I wish all my readers long, healthy lives full of happiness.